Meet Lance Price, professor at the George Washington University’s Milken Institute School of Public Health and the founding director of GW’s Antibiotic Resistance Action Center. Dr. Price works at the interface between science and policy. He gave us the 101 on antibiotic resistance and what all of us can do to help.
Q: What is antibiotics resistance?
A: The world is full of microbes that can infect us. We've learned a lot about viruses recently with COVID 19. Some of the other microbes that can infectious are called bacteria.
And our best treatments for treating bacterial infections are antibiotics. But unfortunately, when we misuse or overuse antibiotics, the bacteria become resistant to their effects. And then when the doctor goes to treat you, that treatment can fail. And they reach for another antibiotic, and that could fail. And eventually, what could happen is you get sicker and sicker and sometimes die.
Q: Where are we overusing or abusing antibiotics?
A: A lot of people, when they think about antibiotic use, they think about human medicine. And that's one place where we're overusing antibiotics. But the other place is actually food=animal production. The problem is when you give animals antibiotics on a regular basis, you fuel the growth of drug-resistant bacteria that can then spread to people and cause infections.
Q: Scary. What are you doing in your lab to fight resistance?
A: In my lab, we try to understand the origins of these drug-resistant bacteria. So we collect bacteria from food, from people, from animals and from the environment. We pull the DNA of all these bacteria, then we sequence that DNA. We draw these evolutionary trees, or these family trees, to try to understand how all these bacteria from all these places are related to one another. What this has shown us very clearly is that some of the drug-resistant bacteria that are infecting people today clearly came from animal production.
Q: It all feels so overwhelming. Is there anything an average Joe like me can do?
A: I've spent years trying to move policy on this issue—trying to get policymakers to restrict the antibiotics that are used and to restrict the total amounts of antibiotics used in animal production. But the place where I've seen them the fastest change, the most positive change, is in the consumer market.
So the best thing that an average consumer can do is vote with their dollars: Go to the grocery store, go to restaurants and look for that label Raised Without Antibiotics or No Antibiotics Ever. Organic is also a good one because they disallow antibiotic use for the organic label.
What we've seen is that that consumer demand to really change things and it's changed things a lot faster than policy has changed. Consumers lead, and then policymakers sort of crawl in behind them. So be a leader and vote with your dollars.